Major Changes At Oni Press – James Lucas Jones & Charlie Chu Out?
Two weeks ago, Publisher's Weekly ran a profile piece on Oni Press, looking at the recently formed Oni–Lion Forge Publishing Group. Looking at how it had survived through lockdown, including its subsidiaries Comics Beat, Oni Press, Lion Forge, Magnetic, Limerence Press, all under the Polarity umbrella. With a staff of thirty looking to expand, with plans to publish sixty original graphic novels this year as well as periodical comics, the 25th Anniversary of Oni Press, provided lots to talk about. It was a bit of a puff piece but hey, that's fine.
The article focused on publisher James Lucas Jones and his plans for the future at One-Lion Forge, quoted as saying "We are well-known for our middle grade and young adult graphic novels, so it's fair to say that they play a large role in our list every year. We are seeing a growing demand for middle-grade nonfiction, as well as young adult contemporary." He added that he will be watching how trends shift because of the pandemic. Already, he explained, "we're seeing a growing demand for genre comics outside of the superhero kind. While science fiction and fantasy have long had a shelf presence, we're seeing a renewed and reinvigorated interest in horror and all of its subgenres." And they were also expanding their adult graphic novel line to match. He also talked about a deluxe edition of Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Phoebe Kobabe, which has faced coordinated efforts in some states to remove it from libraries and schools, and is currently the target of lawsuits.
And as part of the 25th anniversary of Oni Press, a number of their earlier comics and graphic novels were getting new editions, Whiteout by Greg Rucka, Steve Lieber, and Matt Wagner, Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter, Christine Norrie, and Chynna Clugston, and Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. And cited Jones as saying "We're also actively expanding our licensing partnerships, with several big announcements that are sure to shake up things for fans of Oni Press. We're looking forward to sharing this amazing news very soon." Well, San Diego Comic-Con is just around the corner, which would be just the place for such things. But the amazing news may not have been everything Jones was hoping for.
Because, as of yesterday and this morning, I began hearing stories from major industry sources that One-Lion Forge's parent company Polarity was making big changes. That might be shutting up Oni Press entirely in Portland, it may mean conglomerating some operations into its St Louis Lion Forge/Polarity base, but it may be more than that.
Oni Press was founded in 1997 by Bob Schreck and Joe Nozemack. Schreck left the company in 1999, and Oni Press was then owned by Nozemack, and Jamie S. Rich; Rich left in 2004, then it was Joe Nozemack, James Lucas Jones, and Charlie Chu. In 2019, Oni Press announced a merger with Lion Forge Comics under the umbrella company Polarity.
Today I discovered that Oni Press Publisher James Lucas Jones' Oni Press e-mail account was suddenly bouncing, which indicated that he may no longer be with the company. The same was happening with Oni Press Managing Editor Charlie Chu. However, while I had no response from Joe Nozemack, there was no e-mail bounce.
After making enquiries earlier today, Oni Press provided Bleeding Cool with the following statement. "Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, LLC, recently made personnel changes and will continue in its mission of publishing groundbreaking stories by the best creators in the industry, with a focus on diverse, inclusive, and unique stories." To me, that confirmed the departure of Jones and Chu, but there may be others too.
In retrospect, that Publisher's Weekly piece looks like something arranged to bolster James Lucas Jones' position at Oni Press and Polarity ahead of this event. It may not have worked. I hope this Bleeding Cool article might encourage others to talk about what is happening at the publisher – ahead of SDCC.